Friday, February 29, 2008

My Equipment!

I have a small bento collection taking up space in my tidy little kitchen. Check it out!

First, the cute green frog bento:

Frog-Bento holds about 550ml in two layers. The top layer is the larger of the two -- slightly deeper. It comes with a removable divider to keep food separate. Both layers have a white lid (hiding, in this picture) that smushes on top and, if the food is hot, suctions down. You stack the layers and, using the clear, frog-adorned lid, hold them together -- the lid has little wings that clip under the lip of the bottom layer. The most charming part of this box is the tiny fork and spoon that came with it. They're so cute and their itty-bitty size makes my food look huge.

Second, the Hello Kitty bento:

Kitty-Bento is a slightly bigger box, holding about 700ml in two layers. The larger top layer has a tupperware-style lid that makes it perfect for wetter foods. Disappointingly, the bottom layer's lid snuggles into the layer and doesn't stay down very well (I think I put it in the microwave once and that ruined it). This box works fine, though, with the addition of a sturdy rubberband to keep it shut.
It's also ideal for bigger or longer foods because it is a long rectangle without dividers.

Other Accesories:

Food Shapers --
Tiny cookie cutters available at Wal-Mart for under $2US, made by Wilton, are perfect for spicing up cucumber slices or making a boring coldcut sandwich adorable. I have them in the "spring love" variety (stolen from roommate's mom) and the autumn pack (bought in a fit of Halloween spirit).
There is nothing cuter than a turkey and cheese sandwich in the shape of tulips and hearts!
Aside from the cookie cutters, this picture includes the onigiri molds that I bought for the roommate for the holidays. Onigiri are shaped rice balls stuffed with yumminess! We usually make the larger, triangle-shaped balls into savory, tuna or salmon lunch treats. We reserve the little ones for sweet rice balls -- usually filled with delicious red bean paste. YUM!

Food Separators --

Mini cupcake papers make perfect separators for dry foods; for oily foods (like peanut butter), I use the foil cups pictured here. You can also use reusable silicone baking cups -- they're inexpensive and you can use them to make cupcakes, too!

Saucy sauce containers are tiny bottles for liquids. I fill mine with soy sauce or salad dressing, but the options are pretty much endless, provided the liquid is pretty thin. They're easy to fill, too: just pour your sauce into a small bowl, put the mouth of the sauce bottle in and squeeze it to create suction.

Hard subcontainers are perfect for small amounts of messy foods like applesauce or my delicious homemade yogurt. Not pictured here is a really tiny tupperware container -- it only holds 1oz.

The Equipment

Bento, while less expensive than buying daily lunches, has a few start-up costs: equipment.

The basic accessory is the box itself. This can be anything from my adorable Sanrio and San-X boxes to the simpler box that I gave TheBoy for Christmas to the manly Mr. Bento by Zojirushi, a Japanese company that designs high-end (awe-inspiring, magic) rice makers and other expensive toys that I want.
I bought my two boxes on eBay for a little less than $20US, which paid for the two separate boxes and shipping for both from Japan.

The other tool usually considered a necessity with bento preparation is a rice cooker. A countertop rice steamer does not have to be the $200US monster sold by some companies -- it can cost as little as the $20US variety sitting on my kitchen counter.

Past those two pieces, you hardly need any initial investment at all.

College and Costs

Basic Tenet 1: College is expensive.

Basic Tenet 2: Most college students can't, won't, or don't have time to cook good meals.

Basic Tenet 3: Take-out gets old (and expensive!)

Basic Tenet 4: Healthy eating is important to a healthy lifestyle.

Because these basics are the essence of my life as a hungry college student, I decided to do something about them. At the start of the year, I toted a clunky insulated lunchbox from my mom -- I used tons of ziploc bags and had a hard time managing to pack little enough food in such a large bag (I'm not light eater, per se, but a basic lunch didn't need a cubic foot of space). Then, my roommate introduced me to bento.

Hallelujah! She gave me the perfect solution to my boring, too big lunches that wasted space and time. Thanks, roommate! She sent me to Cooking Cute, knowing that I would be taken by the precious little lunches. She also suggested E-OBento, a Japanese language site dedicated to really complex, beyond-my-level lunches.
Since introducing me to the Bento, roommate has regretted saying anything, but I have thanked her endlessly. And now you can too!

Bento, basically, is Japanese portable lunch. In Japan, you can get bento lunches in train stations, restaurants, and from your mom. In the States, you can get bento at some Japanese restaurants as a dinner option -- usually served in an open-style bento box with separators to keep each part of the meal from each other part.
In my kitchen, bento means cute, tidy, convenient, and (usually) inexpensive.

I use bento to make to easy, healthy meals in my own kitchen -- instead of buying lunch on campus or at one of the millions of restaurants downtown.